d - Danny Boyle
w - Joe Ahearne, John Hodge
ph - Anthony Dod Mantle
pd - Mark Tildesley
m - Rick Smithe
ed - Jon Harris
cos - Suttirat Anne Larlarb
p - Danny Boyle, Christian Colson
Cast: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson, Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh
The term “hypnosis” comes from the Greek word “Hypnos” meaning “sleep”. Hypnosis is a psychological state that resembles sleep only cursorily that manifests as an operation of the subject at a level of consciousness other than the ordinary conscious state. When I was a young boy I began churlishly making-fun of the “dangling watch” motion that is associated with hypnosis to an irritated adult. Said adult informed me not to do that because this method is not used for hypnosis but more specifically “Hypnotherapy”, which many adults undertake for serious reasons. I told her to “forgive me, for I sometimes get my bullshit mixed-up.” At this point, I was sent to my room.
Trance, the new film from director Danny Boyle, starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel, uses hypnotherapy as its subject. But no matter how ludicrous you think hypnotherapy is, believe me when I say that this film is worse. It contains all of the intuitive excitement that we associate with Mr Boyle yet none of his intermittent vigour or incisiveness. The picture is unflaggingly presented in his aesthetic, but if one opens one’s mind to try and engage with it on any level, as it hectically swoops from romance to thriller to psychological manifesto, the only thing that is acquired is a thin layer of contemptible, over-cooked afterglow.
Vincent Cassel plays Franck (not a typo), a severe gang leader who strategizes to rob a Goya from an auction-house in London. His inside-man is Simon (James McAvoy), a young art expert with some financial difficulties due to his fondness for poker. But the job does not go according to plan because Simon tries to deceive the gang, and after a spot of violence, he claims that he has developed amnesia due to a blow on his head. Now he needs the service of a hypnotherapist to recover the lost painting. Franck and the gang are determined to get the answer. Dr Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) induces Simon into a trance in order to do this. So, instead of breaking into a bank, these robbers are going to break into someone's mind. But if Dr Lamb loiters in his mind, and he in hers, can anyone trust what is being recollected?
I feel that this has become a trend for thrillers in general, with many great directors undertaking thrillers (Inception, Black Swan, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island) that deal with the horrors of the mind rather than the body. The best example of this is David Cronenberg, who for many, many years made films about the alarming discomfort we have of our own bodies (Rabid, The Brood, The Fly, Crash) and has recently switched to the mind (Spider, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method). I don’t know where this trend has surfaced from but I must say it’s very hit and miss. Mr Boyle did make a Zombie movie, after all.
In what is relatively a short amount of time, Mr Boyle has become a filmmaker of considerable clout. He has made nine films since 1994 and what has always categorized them has been their creative economy. The Beach had a budget of $50 million and Sunshine had $35 million. The other seven were all under $20 million. He cuts his films together in a frenzied cacophony of narrative explosion, sometimes to great effect. Trainspotting remains his best. Recently, he was commissioned to construct and stage the opening to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Trance is certainly efficient in that way but that doesn’t matter if it’s not any good. Trance is strident. The film’s idea, first of all, is too exotic for this sort of treatment, which is one of maddening hyperactivity that signifies nothing but distraction. Both Mr McAvoy and Mr Cassel are embarrassingly false as they spend their time doing nothing but screaming at the top of their lungs. Ms Dawson is thankfully able to keep her cool when her co-stars are losing theirs. In fact, the whole thing is embarrassingly false, despite Mr Boyle’s trusty Anthony Dod Mantle by his side. The blatancy of this is very disappointing, but I do hope that all concerned do something more interesting next time.